The trail seemed a LOT steeper than it was the last time I was here five years ago but I was determined to get to the top of the mountain. I remembered the majestic grove of trees which were covered in fog and, at the top, there was a tremendous view of the whole valley. I would be able to see all the way to San Francisco.
Well, I almost got to the top and it was far enough to see the view. Satisfied and a bit scared to try and go any further, I slid my way back down the mountain. The sloop was very steep with no switchbacks for easier footing.
When I got down to my room at the meditation retreat center (yes, I was on the first day of my week-long meditation retreat), I shortly discovered that I had thrown my back out (more technically, my sacrum was out of place and stuck). This problem was not new to me. My back had just been adjusted the day I left to fly 2,000 miles across the country, and I had been “oh so careful” so as not to hurt myself. But, having successfully made it, I completely threw caution to the wind and succumbed to my old pattern of “doing too much and trying too hard.” Not too mindful on my part!
Lucky for me, it was a retreat about forgiveness so I worked on giving that to myself as I tried all of my tricks to get my back re-aligned. Three days later, a miracle occurred and I was able to adjust my back by myself. The pain disappeared. When I say this was a miracle, I really mean it. I had never been able to do this by myself before.
In those three days of pain, I used the discomfort as a teaching tool for myself. I immediately knew I was facing a pattern of mine that was both useful (I get a lot done!) and harmful (sometimes I work too hard and it harms my body). Being in silence gives you time to listen to the wisdom of your heart and I was listening to mine. My mindful (kind, compassionate) attention helped me a lot.
Five clear mindful insights occurred to me that I worked on for the week and will take with me as I return to my life back home. I think they would be helpful for almost everyone who lives in the modern culture that over-emphasizes doing instead of being. Here’s my gift to you for the new year from my meditation retreat.
Five Mindful Insights for Everyday Life:
- Slow Down – Let’s face it, most of us go at a pace that is not possible for a human being without too much caffeine and too little sleep. With all of the new research out on the importance of our human connections and sleep, slowing down is one of the most important things that we can do to improve both of these areas of our life. We will never get it all done. Do what you can and leave the rest so that you can enjoy your friends, family, community, and yourself. Slow down by starting your day with your favorite meditation or doing one thing slowly (e.g. driving, drinking a cup a tea, doing a yoga posture, making the bed, etc.). Notice how it impacts the rest of your day.
- Soften and Relax – When you slow down you will probably notice that you’re holding tension throughout your body. You might not think so, but stop and pay attention to your body for even a few minutes and I’ll bet you’ll find tension in your shoulders, your neck, your jaw, your forehead, your stomach, and your hands—just to name a few. This tension is residual from the pace of our lives and when we let it go and soften, our mind begins to relax as well. Take a few breaths to facilitate greater relaxation. Soften your body and notice how you feel.
- Surrender to Life as It Is – People often dislike the word “surrender” because they think it is about giving up or being passive. I disagree wholeheartedly. Surrendering to life, just as it is, is ESSENTIAL in figuring out what to do next. If I had spent all of my time fighting with the fact that my back hurt I would never have been able to listen to my intuition about how to fix it. Once I relaxed and surrendered, I remembered an adjustment that I’d never been successful at using before, but it’s what worked this time. I was able to partner with my body and bring it back to balance. What can you let go of that you can’t change? Release your grip on life being a certain way and surrender into the flow of life. Life will bring you joys and sorrows. The trick is to relax and ride the wave.
- Smile – Try it. Right now. Smiling releases dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin—a cocktail for happiness. Smiling is a free, no prescription needed, mood enhancer. Your blood pressure will lower and you can even feel less pain. You even look better and people are more attracted to you when you smile. Since it always seems to uplift, I find it curious why people don’t smile more often. I like to smile and often do so at people I pass walking down the street. If they actually happen to look up we both get a hit of happiness. At least once an hour put a big smile on your face for at least 15 seconds. Notice how you feel.
- Savor – After you slow down, soften, surrender, and smile, you have prepared yourself to fully savor the deliciousness of life. You are present and ready to fully engage with the present moment and what it has to offer. What can you savor? Well, really, about everything. Definitions of “savor” include “to delight in” and “to taste or smell with pleasure.” Savor all of the experiences of your life and flavor them with your curious, kind attention. It’s your curious, kind attention that makes all things interesting and inviting. You don’t ever have to have another dull, boring moment in your life when you approach it with your mindful awareness.
Life is so precious. I hope these five strategies can brighten your days in 2018. Use all of them or one at a time. Use them generously and often.